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7 July, 2020 08:10:49 PM

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Infection can surge at reopening economies: Are we ready?

As the government is in the process of reopening more businesses gradually, it should take rational steps now to forestall any major disaster in near future
Md Tariqul Islam
Infection can surge at reopening economies: Are we ready?

On June 27th, the number of daily Covid-19 patients in South Korea bounced back to over 50 according to data collated by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). 31 of them were infected via community transmission--most of which has been traced to a major church in the southwestern ward of Gwanak, Seoul. 

On June 21st, over the weekend, the “Effective reproduction number” or R rate in Germany leapt to 2.88 (For an R of anything above 1, an epidemic will grow exponentially), largely due to an outbreak in a meat processing plant at Gütersloh in North Rhine-Westphalia.

This resulted in changing their gradually reopening plan in the region, where schools and kindergartens now had been compelled to close until at least the summer holidays, and about 7,000 people working in the plant have been sent into home quarantine.

On June 14th, Rome, Italy reported two outbreaks reappeared at the weekend causing emergence of 15 new cases outside a Rome squat, and 109 cases at a hospital along with 5 deaths. During the same time, Beijing, China has raised its emergency level and barred residents from any “unessential” travel outside Beijing following the emergence of dozens of new cases. This new outbreak has spread to nine of the 17 districts of city Fengtai, connected to a sprawling wholesale food market.

All of these countries were somewhat successful in containment of the initial outbreaks and reopened activities slowly under watchful conditions--but experienced outbreaks of cluster infections in closed spaces. Good for them--as they were able to trace back the source of infection and prevented the possible catastrophe by isolating them quickly. 

These sorts of examples set a forewarning for us, since the Bangladesh government has started reopening garments, offices, banks, which are perfect places for cluster infections. News portals did not elaborate on the reasons behind those outbreaks, but let's pretend the worst scenarios as they did not maintain coronavirus protection protocols. Now, does that make us any different? Probably not! Especially in the garment factories where hundreds of people work together under the same roof--believing they would maintain physical distance and sanitation procedure properly, would be a fairy-tale. Besides, the lack of appropriate ventilation systems in most of the buildings and reluctance in obeying rules among the people makes it hotspots for major outbreaks. 

Fortunately, the age group among the garment workers is in favour. However, this in turn excels them into the proficient silent-carrier, as in many cases young people are asymptomatic. In Bangladesh, we haven't even controlled the initial community transmission, rather the number of new cases is surging lately--amid this delicate situation, running offices can be a ticking bomb. 

The United States would be another noteworthy mention to see the negative outcomes of reopening businesses. The number of new cases in the US swelled tremendously throughout the last month--marked more than 800,000 as states tried to ease their quarantine rules and reopen businesses. Last week, seven states--Arizona, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas reported new highs for Covid-19 hospitalizations, and the number of infections continues to mount across the South and West. In 45 out of 50 states, seven-day averages of new cases are higher than they were a week ago, according to a report by The Washington Post. On July 2nd, the US reported a record number of new cases (55,220), surpassing yesterday’s record of 52,789, previously the highest single-day total since the start of the pandemic. Under the circumstances, many states are now reviving their sweeping lockdown, ordering bars to close and a range of other service-sector businesses to cease indoor operations. 

Unfortunately, Bangladesh belongs to the top 20 most badly affected countries, with a recent spike in the number of new cases. The Guardian lately reported a stringency index based on the University of Oxford’s coronavirus government response tracker. According to their analysis, Bangladesh has been classed as being “Relaxed and Rising”. Any score below 70 out of 100 was defined as being relaxed. Bangladesh scored an average of 63 during the first half of last month, exactly when we started to see a leap-up in daily cases. On this stringency index, some other countries like the US, Germany, Ukraine, Switzerland, France, Sweden, and Iran were also classed as being relaxed. The situation in the US and Germany have already been mentioned, others in the list are also experiencing a surge in new cases. 

On the contrary, an opposite trend was observed in the countries like Canada, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Belgium, Netherlands, and Singapore. These countries, despite being relaxed lately, have a much-reduced number of cases than the previous week. Hope Bangladesh will find its place ultimately in the second list, but it really depends on the proper planning and execution, and the public play according to the regulations.  

Considering the economic condition, Bangladesh cannot have the offices closed for an unforeseeable time, but people here can work on making it safer. As the government is in the process of reopening more businesses gradually, it should take rational steps now to forestall any major disaster in near future. Perhaps the country will witness some casualties despite every precaution, yet an exquisite system like aggressive contact tracing, rapid testing and quick isolation can keep it in check. Thanks to the ICT Division and the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) for taking initiative to roll out the country’s own contact tracing app. This app, called Corona Tracer BD can be downloaded from Google play store. It has started on a trial basis at the beginning of last month, unfortunately, there is yet no update and compatible version for the apple users. It is expected that the government will act promptly and make it effective by means of real time tracing. 

The writer is a Ph.D. candidate at the Pennsylvania State University, USA.

SH

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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